Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.
Former advertising executive Marie Newman finally threw in the towel Wednesday morning after refusing to concede a hard-fought race to Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) on election night, even as she strongly suggested a possible 2020 rematch.
“Last night, we wanted to make sure that every vote was counted, that every voice was heard. We believed there was a possibility of victory,” Newman said in a statement released Wednesday morning. “After reviewing the results, we know that we lost by a thin margin.”
Newman went on to say that she plans to continue “to hold him accountable” going forward and will seek to knock him out of office in 2020 — a strong sign she’ll run again. Some Newman allies including Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) have suggested to TPM that might happen if she lost a close race on Tuesday.
Her statement came after Newman cancelled a planned Wednesday press conference.
Lipinski, one of the House’s most conservative Democrats and a co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, won a close race Tuesday night by a 51 percent to 49 percent margin. But with some votes still outstanding late in the evening Newman refused to concede, telling her supporters she “would like Lipinski to have a very painful evening” so she’d hold off until the next day.
Newman lost in spite of big support from an array of national Democratic groups furious at Lipinski for his anti-abortion stances, vote against Obamacare, and previous opposition to the DREAM Act and gay marriage. That coalition was spearheaded by NARAL Pro-Choice America and backed by Human Rights Campaign, SEIU, MoveOn, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and EMILY’s List. They spent $1.6 million on her behalf, largely fueling her campaign. But it wasn’t quite enough to beat Lipinski and the still-powerful Chicago Democratic machine.
Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) appears to have survived a hard-fought primary, beating back progressive challenger Marie Newman and an array of national liberal groups to hang on to his seat.
Lipinski, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, led Newman by a narrow margin of 51 percent to 49 percent with 97 percent of precincts counted. The Associated Press called the race shortly before 1:30 a.m. EST.
Lipinski wasn’t ready to celebrate when he took the stage Tuesday night.
“I am careful. I am an engineer,” he told supporters as he clung to a slim lead with some votes still being tabulated.
Newman, meanwhile, wasn’t in any mood to concede.
“I would like Lipinski to have a very painful evening,” she declared. “So we’re gonna wait.”
But as the night wore on, Lipinski’s slim lead continued to hold, and he was up by 1,600 votes when the AP called the race.
Lipinski has bucked his party on a bevy of defining issues. He is the most vocal anti-abortion Democrat in Congress, has long opposed many gay rights issues, voted against Obamacare and, until recently, opposed the DREAM Act. A co-chairman of the fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Caucus, he regularly voted against keeping House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as his party’s leader, and even refused to endorse President Obama in his 2012 reelection bid.
That record made him vulnerable to a challenge from the left, and a coalition of national groups who’ve long been furious about his socially conservative record in a safely Democratic district saw an opening in a year with white-hot liberal enthusiasm and decided to try to take him down. NARAL Pro-Choice America, EMILY’s List, The Human Rights Campaign, SEIU and MoveOn.org combined to spend $1.6 million to boost Newman, who struggled with her own fundraising, most of that coming in the race’s final month.
She also got big-name endorsements from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), as well as local power-brokers Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).
But those late efforts weren’t quite enough to beat Lipinski and the Chicago Democratic machine in a district they drew to include as many like-minded, blue-collar white ethnic Democrats as possible in 2012 to avoid exactly this kind of primary challenge. Lipinski was handed the seat by his father, former Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-IL), when he retired in 2004, and maintains close ties with Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D), the state’s longtime Democratic Party boss. Most of his margin of victory came from Chicago proper, where the old Democratic machine remains the strongest.
Lipinski had strong backing from local trade unions and the state AFL-CIO in the race, as well as the national centrist group No Labels, who helped organize a super-PAC funded by Chicago White Sox and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf to spend heavily on his behalf. He also got a last-minute push from the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, which sent canvassers to the district to help him get out the vote.
Newman allies have suggested she may seek a rematch in 2020 against the congressman, looking to build off the name ID she cultivated in this race. But for at least two more years, the Lipinski dynasty will live on.
Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) barely hung on against an upstart conservative challenger in Tuesday’s primary, an ominous sign for the embattled governor as he turns to an uphill race for reelection.
Rauner edged out Illinois state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R) by just 52 percent to 48 percent with more than 90 percent of precincts counted in a race few thought would be competitive until its final days. The Associated Press has called the race.
Those results set off alarm bells in Illinois GOP circles, as Rauner already trails his Democratic challenger, billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker, by double digits in public polls. Pritzker easily won his own primary.
“Tomorrow’s a new day and a win is a win. But it’s obvious the governor has a little work to do to put his party back together — all while fighting J.B. Pritzker,” said former Rauner strategist Lance Trover. “He’s got a heavy lift ahead. He’s in a Democratic-leaning state with an anti-incumbent mood hitting the nation.”
To have any shot in the general election, Rauner, who didn’t seem to realize he was in a real primary fight until weeks ago, will somehow need to woo back the conservative voters who rejected him Tuesday after he signed legislation to expand abortion access and protect undocumented immigrants in the state.
But he also needs to dramatically improve his standing with moderates in Chicago’s suburbs, who fueled his narrow win four years ago. Doing both at once is easier said than done. Rauner recently vetoed a gun control bill in an effort to solidify his standing within the GOP, infuriating many suburban moderates. And his constant fiscal battles with statehouse Democrats seem to be wearing on many swing voters who gave him a chance to shake up the struggling state four years ago.
Rauner himself seemed to acknowledge the obstacles in a less-than-victorious victory speech, imploring conservatives to rally to his side.
“To those around the state of Illinois who wanted to send me a message, let me be clear,” Rauner said. “I have heard you. I have traveled the state and I have listened to you. While we disagree on some things, let’s commit to working together on what unites us — the reforms we need to save our state.”
Even Rauner’s biggest political asset from his last race may not be much help heading into the fall. The multi-millionaire spent about $65 million to win his last race in 2014, heavily outspending his opponents in the race, and has dropped tens of millions more already in this contest. But Pritzker’s cash dwarfs Rauner’s, and the billionaire Democrat, who already spent close to $70 million to win his primary, is almost certain to have the edge in campaign spending in what observers say will likely be the most expensive statewide race in U.S. history.
“I’m not going to let Donald Trump have an inch of Illinois. And I will take every inch of Illinois back from Bruce Rauner,” Pritzker declared in his victory speech, taking aim at two lawmakers who are unpopular in the state.
And Ives wasn’t conciliatory as she conceded, calling him “the worst Republican governor in America.”
It appears for now that Rauner is the most endangered governor running for reelection in the country.
Billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker (D) has won the nomination to be the Democratic candidate for Illinois governor this fall. But two top lawmakers in the state are clinging to narrow leads in their primaries after committing apostasies against their parties’ base voters — including the sitting governor that everyone thought would be Pritzker’s opponent.
Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) is sweating out a surprisingly strong right-wing challenge from state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R) fueled by conservative anger over his support for bills expanding abortion access and protecting undocumented immigrants in the state. It looks like Rauner will hang on, but, with nearly two thirds of the vote counted, he had just a four-point lead over Ives. That’s a major alarm bell for his ability to win the general election: He’ll somehow need to unite his base while winning back moderates in a blue state where his poll numbers with independent voters are in the toilet.
Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) has the same problem in reverse: He is stridently opposed to abortion, voted against Obamacare and splits from his party on some gay rights and immigration issues. Those positions have left him vulnerable on the left, and he’s in a dogfight to hang on to his seat in the face of a challenge from former advertising executive Marie Newman. Lipinski clings to a slim two-point lead with 87 percent of precincts reporting.
Former Chicago mayoral candidate Chuy Garcia has won nomination to replace retiring Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) in a safely Democratic district, and highly touted Democratic recruit Brendan Kelly has won his primary to face Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) this fall.
Democrats are also naming challengers to Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Randy Hultgren (R-IL), and EMILY’s List-backed Lauren Underwood and Betsy Dirksen Londrigan have comfortable leads in those races, though they haven’t been called as of 10:15 p.m.
Stay tuned for more election results as they role in.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has known for months that he’d be in for a tough race in 2018. He just didn’t expect it to happen in the primary.
Rauner has suddenly found himself in a dogfight with hardline conservative Illinois state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R), who has risen from gadfly status to become a potentially serious threat to his reelection by attacking his moderate social positions in the GOP primary. The race has emerged as a late-breaking test for Rauner, topping the list of key primary races in the state (more on the rest below).
After months of concentrating his fire on his likely Democratic opponents, the deep-pocketed governor has suddenly shifted all of his TV spending to push himself through the primary. And he rushed to veto a gun control bill last week, a move that surprised many given his years-long efforts to not antagonize moderate suburban voters on social issues — and given polling that shows him trailing by double digits any of the Democrats who might win their party’s nomination on Tuesday.
All of those moves suggest a suddenly nervous candidate. And while strategists in both parties think he’ll likely hang on to win on Tuesday, some aren’t completely foreclosing the possibility that Ives could pull off a shocker.
“It appears this election is going to be a lot closer than anyone thought it would be — especially the governor,” former Rauner adviser Lance Trover told TPM on Monday.
Social conservatives are furious with Rauner, largely because of his decision to sign into law legislation expanding abortion access and protecting undocumented immigrants in the state late last year. The laws drove many hardliners to Ives — including megadonor Richard Uihlein, a one-time Rauner supporter who kicked her campaign $2.5 million for campaign ads.
Ives has used some of that money to run controversial ads that critics have called racist and homophobic — but that may just help her with the state’s small but committed activist GOP base.
The Democratic Governors Association smells blood as well. The group launched a last-minute $500,000 campaign with a pair of spots attacking Rauner’s economic record while labeling Ives as “too conservative,” highlighting her strident pro-life, pro-gun and hardline immigration views. The Democrats’ move is designed to boost Ives’ appeal with the state’s GOP base, much like Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) campaign did in 2012 with last-minute ads that fueled Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) primary win.
Rauner is promising wins in both Tuesday’s primary and the general election: “Let me be clear, we aren’t going to lose,” he said at a press conference Monday. But those around him aren’t feeling great about how the primary has moved since January, and are concerned that even if he wins he’ll have to spend a good amount of time mending fences with conservatives in the state, much like what Ed Gillespie attempted to do after a surprisingly close primary en route to his general election loss in Virginia’s gubernatorial race last fall. That’s not a great place to be in the Democratic-leaning state in a Democratic-leaning year, as he already trails in the polls.
“It’ll obviously be closer than Bruce would like to see,” one Rauner ally told TPM, predicting Rauner would win the primary. “But after the Trump election in ’16, anything can happen.”
His race tops the list of key primary results to watch out for in Illinois Tuesday — but is far from the only important contest as liberals and Democrats look to solidify their grip on the blue state.
Here’s what else to watch for:
Which Democrat will emerge against Rauner?
The Republican governor is one of the wealthiest politicians in America — but his cash pales in comparison to the man he’s most likely to face this fall, setting up a race many predict will be the most expensive statewide contest in U.S. history.
Billionaire J.B. Pritzker has saturated the airwaves with ads in his three-way primary against Chris Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy and a millionaire in his own right, and Illinois state Sen. Daniel Biss. And while Pritzker has some baggage — most notably his ties to disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) — he appears to be in the driver’s seat heading into Tuesday’s primary.
Pritzker has won the support of most of Illinois’ Democratic power brokers, and strategists say he’s surprisingly good on the stump. The handful of public polls available have him holding a double-digit lead in the primary after giving himself $63 million to date for the campaign.
Will one of Congress’s most conservative Democrats lose on Tuesday?
Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) has made a career of antagonizing his own party’s leaders, and is facing the toughest primary of his seven-term congressional career from former advertising executive Marie Newman.
Newman has gotten a huge boost from national Democratic groups including NARAL Pro-Choice America, EMILY’s List and the Human Rights Campaign, and backing from the Service Employees International Union, whose ground game efforts could help neutralize Lipinski’s strong field operation, support from the Chicago Democratic machine and the AFL-CIO. Newman has had the momentum, and those watching the race say it could go either way.
Who will Democrats nominate to face top GOP congressional targets?
Democrats have crowded primaries for the right to face three of their four congressional targets in Illinois.
More than a half-dozen candidates are vying to be the nominee against Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) in Chicago’s western suburbs, a district that had been drawn as safely Republican but Hillary Clinton won last fall. Strategists say the front-runners are Kelly Mazeski (D), a local elected official who has the backing of EMILY’s List, clean energy entrepreneur Sean Casten, and former congressional chief of staff Carole Cheney.
A number of Democrats are also squaring off for the right to face Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) in a GOP-leaning downstate district, though most think Betsy Londrigan will be the nominee. A number more are running to face Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) in a GOP-leaning district in exurban Chicago, where EMILY’s List-backed nurse and former Obama appointee Lauren Underwood and local mayor Matt Brolley (D) lead the pack.
Highly touted Democratic recruit Brendan Kelly, a prosecutor and Navy veteran, is expected to win his primary as he prepares to face Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) in a GOP-leaning southern Illinois district.
One of the most conservative Democrats in Congress may lose his primary on Tuesday.
Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) spent much of his career antagonizing his own party as an outspoken pro-life advocate who has been hostile to gay rights and has voted against Democratic priorities from the DREAM Act to Obamacare to Planned Parenthood funding. After more than a decade representing a safely Democratic seat stretching from Chicago’s Southwest Side out to largely working-class suburbs, he’s facing the toughest primary challenge of his career from former ad executive Marie Newman, a staunch liberal whose campaign has gotten a major boost from a constellation of national progressive groups seeking his ouster.
Democrats who have closely monitored the election say it could go either way, but that she has the momentum in a year where the liberal base is furious and activated and being a centrist in a safely Democratic district isn’t exactly a selling point.
“Dan Lipinski has walked away from the Democratic values that we all hold dear, particularly that relate to women and women’s health care. This is not the time for someone who’s going to champion anti-women’s positions and anti-LGBTQ positions,” EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock told TPM during a Thursday conference call. “We think she’s going to pull this out on Tuesday.”
Besides the pro-choice EMILY’s List and NARAL Pro-Choice America, Newman also has support from the pro-LGBTQ Human Rights Campaign and the Service Employees International Union. The groups have spent more than $1 million to back her campaign. She also has endorsements from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), as well as Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who has dispatched a top staffer to aid Newman’s campaign. Some top local Democrats, like Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle (D), have gotten on board as well.
Lipinski, allies say, was caught a bit flat-footed by the challenge. He told TPM a few weeks ago that he wasn’t sure “why anyone believes this is going to be a close race to begin with.” He was slow to launch TV ads slamming Newman, allowing her and her allies weeks to themselves to define the race. That allowed Newman to raise her once-nonexistent name ID and drill him for his regular breaks with his party, not an easy feat in Chicago’s expensive media market especially since it’s been saturated with heavy campaign spending from the billionaires running for Illinois governor.
A Lipinski poll taken early in the race found him with a 30-point lead; a recent survey from NARAL found Newman within two points.
“I don’t think he realized what a fight he’d be in, and the dynamic didn’t change until the SEIU and progressive groups flipped the switch and started spending,” one Chicago Democratic strategist whose job precludes them from talking on-record told TPM.
But those following the race say not to count Lipinski out just yet. He has close ties with Chicago’s still-powerful Democratic machine and its head, state party chairman and state House Speaker Mike Madigan (D). The well-organized building trade unions are firmly behind him as well, after a decades-long relationship with him and his father, former Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-IL), who installed his son in his old seat when he retired in 2004. Lipinski and Madigan made sure the current incarnation of the district had as many blue-collar white ethnic Democrats as possible in the last round of redistricting in an effort to boost his standing.
There’s no love lost between the Lipinski and Newman. Lipinski, a co-chairman of the fiscally moderate Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, regularly dismisses Newman as part of the “Tea Party of the left” in interviews, while Newman attacked him as a “full-on Republican” who is “anti-immigrant” and “on a mission against women” in a Thursday conference call with EMILY’s List.
The winner of the Democratic primary will be a lock in the general election — Hillary Clinton carried the district by 15 points and Republicans are set to nominate an actual neo-Nazi that party leaders have disavowed after failing to recruit a real candidate.
Lipinski has gotten his own cavalry in the race. The centrist group No Labels has spent close to $1 million on TV and mail pieces through a number of new super-PACs largely financed by Chicago Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, an old friend of Lipinski’s father.
But one of its attacks may end up backfiring on Lipinski. The group sent a mailer contrasting Newman to President Obama, saying he was “known for leading” while she was “known for misleading.” That incensed some of Obama’s top deputies, who were quick to point out that Lipinski not only voted against Obamacare, he publicly refused to endorse Obama in his 2012 reelection campaign. Former top Obama adviser David Axelrod lit into him on Twitter, then held a press conference with former advisers to attack Lipinski as a hypocrite.
In fact, Lipinski was one of the few Democrats who voted against the Affordable Care Act, which makes the Obama mailer even more galling.
He also got a last-minute boost from the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, which is spending a small amount and sending canvassers to knock on 17,000 doors to turn out the district’s pro-life (largely Catholic) voters.
“Dan Lipinski is one of the few remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress, and he has shown extraordinary courage,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a Thursday statement. “He stood firm against Obamacare’s expansion of taxpayer-funded abortion under intense pressure from party leaders to give in. Now Lipinski is under attack for his pro-life convictions again, with a primary challenger backed by the radical abortion lobby. That’s why SBA List is going all in for Lipinski.”
Lipinski’s campaign didn’t respond to multiple calls and emails to discuss the race.
Lipinski’s side has had the edge in recent spending and, though the SEIU is all-in for Newman with its ground game, his field operation has proven formidable in the past.
“It’s going to be tough, but I think he’s going to win,” said one Lipinski ally who’s helped on the race.
But others aren’t so sure, arguing her message has been a much more potent one in the current political climate.
“Her messaging on choice and gay rights is a lot stronger than his attacks on her business and working with felons,” said the Chicago-based Democratic strategist. “It’s looking like a coin flip here.”
Republican Danny Tarkanian has agreed to drop his primary against Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) and instead run for the House after getting a public shove from President Trump on Friday to do so, boosting Heller’s chances of reelection in the Democratic-leaning state.
Tarkanian announced he’d undertake another House run (he’s lost two previous bids for the House and six different campaigns in the state) almost immediately after Trump tweeted that he should do so and leave Heller alone, saying he’d done so because Trump asked him Wednesday night.
“I am confident I would have won the US Senate race and done a great job representing the people of Nevada in the Senate, but the president is adamant that a unified Republican ticket in Nevada is the best direction for the America First movement,” Tarkanian said in a statement.
His decision eliminates Heller’s primary rival and may give the senator some more wiggle room as he looks to burnish his moderate bona fides ahead of what looks like a very tough reelection fight against Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) that has been made harder by Heller’s bear-hugging the president to block Tarkanian.
“It would be great for the Republican Party of Nevada, and it’s [sic.] unity if good guy Danny Tarkanian would run for Congress and Dean Heller, who is doing a really good job, could run for Senate unopposed!” Trump tweeted Friday afternoon.
It would be great for the Republican Party of Nevada, and it’s unity if good guy Danny Tarkanian would run for Congress and Dean Heller, who is doing a really good job, could run for Senate unopposed!
The tweet comes after Trump has privately said he’d campaign for Heller, who has become a loyal foot soldier for the president ever since he won in 2016.
Heller faces a brutal reelection campaign against Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Tarkanian had forced him into being a loyal foot soldier by running a campaign mostly focused on bashing Heller for not backing Trump enough. Trump’s public shove of Tarkanian may be the biggest help he’s done the GOP establishment since becoming president.
But while avoiding a primary is a godsend for Heller, Trump’s seal of approval is unlikely to help in the general election in a state he narrowly lost in 2016, has large and fast-growing populations of Hispanics and Asian Americans. According to Gallup, Trump’s approval rating in the state is in line with his national average over the past year, at slightly above 40 percent.
The Reno Gazette-Journal first reported Tarkanian’s change of heart.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and other Republicans are downplaying their shocking loss in a deep-red Pennsylvania House district while insisting they continue to see their tax overhaul as a major winning message next fall. But their closing ads in the race — and others — suggest they’re a lot more likely to revert to culture war issues to try to save the House and win other tough races this fall.
Ryan urged his colleagues to keep selling tax reform on the campaign trail in a closed-door meeting Wednesday after their disastrous apparent loss in a heavily Republican Pennsylvania House district (there will likely be a recount), while waving off the race’s result as a fight between “two conservatives” that wouldn’t be replicated elsewhere and ignoring Democrat Conor Lamb’s attacks on the tax plan.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, the GOP’s main House super-PAC, spent millions on ads blasting Lamb for opposing the tax plan early on in the race. But the group and the National Republican Congressional Committee moved on from those ads in the race’s final weeks as Lamb gained steam, pivoting to attacks on hot-button social issues like immigration and sanctuary cities, like this one:
That follows a pattern displayed in nearly every other election over the past year: When Republicans actually bet big on closing campaign ads they keep reverting to the culture wars to try to rev up their listless base.
Republicans followed a similar playbook in the special election to fill Montana’s sole House seat last year, hammering the Democratic candidate for wanting to “grab your guns” while touting the National Rifle Association’s support for now-Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT). While they did that, Gianforte refused to say where he was on Obamacare repeal – and even attacked a reporter who dared push him on the issue.
While few GOP groups were on the air for Roy Moore at the end, the pro-Trump super-PAC running ads on his behalf hammered now-Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) for his pro-choice views.
That strategy has held true even in more suburban territory, most notably in Virginia’s gubernatorial election last year. Ed Gillespie, once a paragon of big-tent conservatism and advocate of immigration reform, pivoted from early ads talking about tax cuts to brutal spots focused on MS-13 and sanctuary cities.
Republicans took a slightly different approach in the tony Atlanta suburbs to get now-Rep. Karen Handel (R-GA) across the finish line, attacking Democrat Jon Ossoff as a tax-and-spend liberal who was weak on the military. But one of their key attacks in that race, as in all other House races including Pennsylvania’s, has been tying him to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), where the emphasis has been much more about the coded “San Francisco liberal” than any particular policy gripe. Attacks on Pelosi remain a staple of any House GOP ad campaign, strategists are happy to acknowledge– and even some early Senate ads have featured Pelosi.
They tried that red-meat strategy even in the gubernatorial race in Democratic-leaning New Jersey:
The strategy has shown mixed results. But it’s likely to pop up in force especially in Senate contests, many of which are in more culturally conservative populist states like Missouri and West Virginia. It’s unclear how effective it will be in saving House members in swing and suburban territory, however, where Republicans might be forced to look to other strategies.
Pennsylvania was the first major election since the tax plan passed, giving Republicans a chance to push hard on an issue that had been a mere abstraction in the past. They argue that while the law remains unpopular overall, it’s improved its standing since it first passed late last year.
The CLF says its own polling found 50 percent of voters in the Pennsylvania district supported the law as of the beginning of March, after their ads ran, with just 35 percent opposing it. But they didn’t provide any data showing that it was a major motivator in the race – and the 15-point edge they say they have on that race isn’t as large as the 20-point margin Trump managed in the district in 2016, and nowhere near the huge disapproval rating for Pelosi the group found in the district. National polling suggests the law has become more popular, but is still underwater.
“The most important thing for the midterms is does the middle class think we cut their taxes? We’ve made progress selling the tax plan based on the progress I’ve seen since December but there’s still more work yet to be done,” CLF head Corry Bliss told TPM.
The GOP’s promise to run on the law sounds rather familiar to Democrats’ guarantee they’d run on Obamacare in 2010, which was polling at similar levels then to the tax law now, before largely abandoning it in a number of races ahead of their electoral shellacking.
Bliss promised: “You’re going to be seeing tax ads all across the country this fall.”
He may be telling the truth – Republicans need to tout their sole major legislative achievement and hope it pays some dividends. But Pennsylvania’s results prove that it’s far from a fix-it for the GOP’s political problems, and their actual ad spending suggests nervous strategists are likely to fall back more on Trump-like culture war attacks as they try to boost their base in a brutal electoral environment.
Controversial Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) is abandoning a primary challenge to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and instead launching a bid for the seat being vacated by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), he announced Wednesday evening, giving him an easier path to the U.S. Senate.
“By announcing early, we are asking Mississippi Republicans to unite around my candidacy and avoid another contentious contest among GOP members that would only improve the Democrats’ chances of winning the open seat,” McDaniel said in a statement. “If we unite the party now and consolidate our resources, we can guarantee Donald Trump will have a fighter who will stand with him.”
That switch comes after months of internal debate from McDaniel, who delayed filing for the Wicker race for as long as he could as he waited on Cochran, before eventually jumping in a few weeks ago. Cochran announced shortly afterwards that he’d retire, creating a much easier opening for McDaniel, who lost a close and nasty primary to Cochran in 2014.
Cochran will resign on April 1, and Mississippi Gov. Phi Bryant (R) has said he’ll start considering a replacement after that. McDaniel’s allies have pushed to have him named to the seat, something Bryant is loath to do.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and President Trump have both encouraged Bryant to appoint himself, but sources say he’s not thrilled with the idea. Whoever Bryant does pick is likely to have their hands full with McDaniel, who has a rabid Tea Party following in the state – though McDaniel’s criticisms of Trump during the 2016 GOP primary give opponents fodder to attack him.
This story was originally posted at 11:45 p.m. Tuesday and has since been updated.
Democrat Conor Lamb declared victory as he clung to a slim lead over Republican Rick Saccone in the race for an open House seat in heavily conservative southwestern Pennsylvania early Wednesday morning, as the election’s results sent a chill down the spines of Republicans bracing for the 2018 midterms.
Lamb led Saccone by just 579 votes out of more than 220,000 cast with all precincts reporting shortly before midnight EST. The Associated Press has yet to call the race, as absentee ballots in some portions of the district have yet to be counted, and Saccone suggested he might be ready for a recount challenge.
After a series of close calls in GOP-leaning districts last year, Democrats may have flipped their first House district of the Trump era.
The essentially tied race comes in a district that President Donald Trump carried by 20 percentage points in 2016 and President Barack Obama lost by double-digit margins in both of his elections.
“It took a little longer than we thought, but we did it,” Lamb told his supporters around 1 a.m. EST.
That victory lap may be premature, but the huge shift in the district toward Democrats is the much bigger news than who wins the seat, especially after a series of huge gains in other special elections over the last year-plus.
While GOP strategists sought to spin the close race away, some admitted that Tuesday night’s results were alarming no matter which candidate prevailed.
“Regardless of who ultimately wins, this is not a good result for the GOP,” former Republican National Committee Communications Director Doug Heye tweeted. “Look for more retirements to come.”
Regardless of who ultimately wins, this is not a good result for the GOP. Look for more retirements to come.
Republicans have long argued that Saccone was a flop of a candidate, and they’re right, but that only partly explains of the election’s photo finish. Saccone struggled mightily with fundraising, had a highly antagonistic relationship with unions – a real problem in the labor-heavy district – and proved to be far less charismatic than Lamb, a fresh-faced former Marine. But Saccone was no Roy Moore, and in a normal political environment even a lackluster candidate should have been able to win with little problem.
Tuesday night’s result is the latest sign of a building Democratic wave, and suggests it may not be limited solely to suburban areas. While Pennsylvania’s 18th district contains a good chunk of better-educated Pittsburgh suburbs, much of it covers blue-collar and more exurban territory, it’s overwhelmingly white, and though it’s ancestrally Democratic, Republicans have won there for decades. The rural and poorer portions of the district did not shift as dramatically toward Lamb as the more educated areas, but he showed marked improvement compared to Hillary Clinton’s performance in the district in 2016.
If Democrats can keep fighting to a draw in districts like this, they can win in plenty of places where Republicans were all but guaranteed victories in past years, as there are 119 GOP-held House seats that are more Democratic than this one.
Lamb was a strong candidate with an impressive resume who helped himself by breaking with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). But Democrats won’t need the same type of lopsided edge in candidate quality to win in easier districts this fall, as evidenced by the more than three dozen state legislative seats they’ve flipped in the last year-plus, their upset win in Alabama’s Senate race, surprisingly strong margins of victory in gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey last year and an overall shift in most elections’ margins towards the party in House elections they’ve lost in red districts.
The Democratic Congressional Committee took a premature victory lap, congratulating Lamb on his “incredible victory” shortly before midnight.
“These results should terrify Republicans,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) said in the statement.
But Saccone wasn’t ready to concede, telling supporters around the same time that “We’re going to fight all the way into the end.”
“This race is too close to call and we’re ready to ensure that every legal vote is counted. Once they are, we’re confident Rick Saccone will be the newest Republican member of Congress,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Matt Gorman.
Republicans did all they could to stave off a loss in the district. President Trump visited twice, campaigning for Saccone as recently as Saturday, and a bevy of administration officials including Vice President Mike Pence and adviser Kellyanne Conway swung by to help him as well. The NRCC, the Congressional Leadership Fund super-PAC and other GOP groups combined to spend more than $10 million on the race. But their efforts appear to have fallen just short.
Compounding Republicans’ concerns: The CLF spent millions on TV ads to try to make Lamb pay for his opposition to the GOP tax overhaul, testing a line of attack they’d been planning to make a major part of their 2018 argument. Those ads didn’t seem to move the needle much, as the group moved onto more culture war-focused attacks in the race’s final two weeks as they looked to dent Lamb’s tough-on-crime reputation.
National Democrats largely worked to keep their help below the radar, with the exception of a visit from former Vice President Joe Biden.
The huge effort from both parties comes even though this district won’t exist after this year. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has adopted a new congressional map for the November election, and Lamb is expected to run against Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA) in a new district that leans a bit Republican but not nearly as heavily as the one Lamb just won, while Saccone may run in a new more conservative district that overlaps with much of the current one. The deadline for filing for the 2018 fall elections is just a week away in Pennsylvania, so both candidates may have to file for the next race before they know for sure who will be heading to Congress for the next nine months.